Tuesday, 27 June 2017
Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages
I again welcome the Minister of State to the House but it would be appropriate if the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, came into the House to deal with the Bill because people locally are amazed that he, as Minister, would discriminate against the constituency of Roscommon-east Galway by imposing permits to fish for pike or coarse fish in the Midlands Fisheries Group of controlled waters.The area comprises the River Suck, the River Inny, the River Brosna, the Little Brosna River and the Camlin River. I see the number of the fishing permit distributors. However, I know one particular individual in our area who has decided to terminate their sale because Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, was looking for advance payment for the permits. I have looked at the ESB regulations regarding angling permits. We are losing out big time. No British fisherman is going to pay €45 for a permit to fish on the River Suck, the River Inny, the River Brosna, the Little Brosna River and the Camlin River when he or she can fish without a permit in Ballyleague on the River Shannon. The situation arose recently when a fishing contest could not come to the River Suck area last week because of the permit situation. What statutory order was issued at the time that the Midlands Fisheries Group brought forward this proposal for these particular permits?
I hate to interrupt the Senator. However section 2 states:
Amendment of section 2 of Act of 2010
Section 2 of the Act of 2010 is amended by the insertion of the following definition:
“ ‘Act of 1962’ means the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1962;”.
I am not sure whether what the Senator has raised is relevant to this point.
Do the fines detailed in the tables in this section apply to the rivers to which I referred, namely, the River Suck, the River Inny, the River Brosna, the Little Brosna River and the Camlin River? Will this list mean bailiffs will stop children fishing on these rivers if they do not have a licence? On my farm, we have Blacks Lake and the Derryhippo River. No one belonging to me can fish in those waters without this permit. What statutory power does the Minister of State have for his bailiffs to walk over private property to find out who is fishing?
There is something strange about this whole thing and I want to get to the bottom of it. I cannot understand how the Minister, Deputy Naughten, - he should be here - can allow the Minister of State come into this House to justify summonsing little children for not having a €10 permit to fish on those rivers while fishing on the whole of the River Shannon system requires no permit. It is an outrageous proposal. What statutory power has the Minister or IFI to collect these moneys? It is not listed in this Bill with no mention of permits. There was an amalgamation of the seven regional fisheries organisations. IFI inherited these particularly grotesque charges.
I am not getting the point across. If someone does not have a permit to fish on the River Suck, the River Inny, the River Brosna, the Little Brosna River and the Camlin River, will that person be subject to a fine? Where in the Bill does it specifically state that this was brought about? What statutory instrument does the Minister have in this regard? Is it legal?
I am charged with responsibility for natural resources. That is why I am here for all debates regarding inland fisheries. There is no issue of the Minister choosing not to come in here. Only on the odd time when I might not be able to attend would the Minister attend in my absence.
IFI does not prosecute juveniles for the non-payment of permits on the River Shannon. On the last occasion, the Senator brought up the issue of the permits. The Central Fisheries Board entered into a lease with the ESB in October 1998 for a period of 21 years to lease and manage the waters of the upper Shannon, including all of the main tributaries and their catchments. Section 16 of the lease specifies the lessor, the ESB in this case, agrees that the lessee shall be at liberty to charge for fishing in the fishery and retain any revenues so derived. The former Shannon Regional Fisheries Board, now IFI, continues to manage the waters in return for a permit charge on privately-owned, that is ESB, fisheries.
While the perception among many is that the waters for the upper Shannon, for which there is permit charge, are State waters, they are in fact privately owned by the ESB. The majority of the angling community is not aware of this subtlety. It would likely advance the argument that as the waters are privately owned by the ESB which is, in turn a State company, then the waters are State waters. However IFI’s understanding is that the current legal position is that the waters of the upper Shannon are privately owned by the ESB and, hence the permit charge applies as it would in all private fisheries. The midlands permit is a charge to exercise the right to fish in private waters, in this case the ESB’s private waters. The permit charge is consistent with paying to enter any other private fishery.
This Bill seeks to ensure a transposition of the powers that were not transposed properly in the 2010 Act. Section 178 of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959 deals with permits and is not in any way affected by this Bill.
The revenue collected from the midlands fisheries scheme is re-allocated to clubs in its own area. A significant portion of that fund has been re-invested in County Roscommon, something which I am sure the Senator will welcome.
There is an ESB charged permit for fishing on the lower Shannon and the Mulkear River.
I am aware he also shares power. I was designated myself. I know all about delegation and what happens when the Minister of the day wants to deals with an issue.This is not appropriate. The ESB is not demanding-----
I thank the Minister of State for his good wishes to Councillors Orla Leyden and Rachel Doherty, the cathaoirleach and deputy cathaoirleach of Roscommon County Council, respectively. I wish them both every success in their roles. In the course of her speech yesterday, Councillor Leyden emphasised the importance of tourism but this permit is damaging to Roscommon and parts of Longford. It is damaging tourism and that is why I appeal to the Minister and to Inland Fisheries Ireland to get rid of it. It does not apply to all rivers. I was going to read out a list of all the rivers in Ireland but I will not bore the House with the details.
I acknowledge the importance of tourism, and angling tourism in particular, to Roscommon and the midlands. The Senator is correct in saying that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, has overall responsibility, as the senior Minister at Cabinet. I know he has met the ESB and has plans to meet it again on a range of issues and I will certainly ask him to raise this issue with the company. However, as I have already said, it is a privately owned fishery. I am sure the Senator welcomes the fact there is investment from the permit in fishing and angling facilities in Roscommon. Furthermore, under the national angling fund there was a considerable amount of investment in Roscommon, Leitrim and Sligo last year and there will be another tranche of funding available again this year. I understand where the Senator is coming from and I will certainly ask the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to raise that matter again with the ESB to see if it can be reviewed.
I fully concur with the Minister that the amount of investment and work that is going on is excellent. I want to compliment the local staff who have provided fishing stands on Black's lake on the River Suck, which are a tremendous help. However, the distribution of investment funds for capital works should not be dependent on the fact there is permit which raises some money. The Minister of State may have details of the exact amount and I would like to know how much money was collected in 2016 through the permit.
The permit provides a top-up in funding but if it is relevant in Roscommon and Longford, why is it not relevant to every other river in Ireland? Why is it not nationwide if it is so helpful in terms of generating investment? The main point is that it is a deterrent to tourism in my area. I appeal to the Minister of State, who is from the west of Ireland, and to the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment to look at this situation and rectify it. The amount of money involved is so small that it is not worth the row.
I thank Senators for their support for this Bill. As we know, it is very important that we restore confidence in the powers of Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI. The timely enactment of this Bill will ensure there is no period during which offences can be committed with impunity. IFI will once again be empowered to enforce the Inland Fisheries Acts and to protect and conserve Ireland's valuable inland fisheries and sea angling resources. The urgency of this legislation was illustrated clearly by two events at the weekend. Last Friday 40 large salmon and the vehicle transporting them were seized by IFI in north Mayo. These fish, illegally poached off the coast, stood to profit the alleged offender by some €5,000. Over the weekend almost 30 salmon were seized by IFI off Aran Mór island in Donegal. These fish stood to profit the alleged poacher by over €3,000. In that context, it is obviously very important that we restore fully the powers of IFI to prosecute. I thank Senators for their co-operation in the passage of this Bill.
I congratulate the Minister of State on the Bill. We all accept the situation is very difficult for IFI without the powers under the relevant Act and that the matter had to be dealt with quickly. Fianna Fáil supports that concept and wants those powers restored to stop poaching and other abuses on our rivers. I will say no more, other than to request again that the Minister and Minister of State would bring about a solution to a very small problem, which would be of great assistance to my area. We are under pressure, from a tourism point of view, and we need every possible assistance. It would be a nice gesture if the Minister of State could bring about a change in the rules and regulations.
I will certainly bring that to the Minister's attention. I would like to thank staff and officials from the Department and Inland Fisheries Ireland for their work on this Bill, in particular Mr. Denis Maher from the Department and Mr. Greg Ford from IFI.